Part 30: Face of the Enemy

Chapter 1

May 1995

A warm breeze blew in from the open doors of the concert hall lobby, and Sophia let her wrap fall away from her shoulders. Along with the breeze came the sound of chanting.

“Why would anyone want to protest against Beethoven?” Sophia asked Madari, when he handed her a program and a glass of wine from the bar.

“I’ve read that there were protests at the first performances of some of his works.”

“And there were riots at the premier of The Magic Flute, yes, yes. But surely we’ve moved on?”

“Not all of us.”

Madari sipped his iced mineral water and glanced over at the doors. The sight of the small protest outside the concert hall had surprised and rather embarrassed him. A knot of young men waved placards condemning Beethoven as Un-Islamic and calling for the concert to be stopped.

“I suppose they believe they’re protecting their heritage,” Sophia said.

“Beethoven is part of my heritage,” Madari said, frowning, still embarrassed for his people. “My heritage as a human being.”

How could they protest at music that exalted the soul? Didn’t that bring a man closer to God, whoever created that music? A bell sounded to mark ten minutes until the start of the performance and the crowd began to drift towards the hall.

“Fair’s fair though,” Sophia said as they finished their drinks. “Perhaps I should attend some performances of local music.”

Madari smiled, suddenly seeing a method in the madness. “Like one of his?” He nodded over at a large poster on the wall, that showed an absurdly good-looking young man. Concert dates next week were listed on the poster, along with his name – Sami. Only one name.

Sophia blushed. “Well, perhaps.”

“I fear his concerts are sold out. He’s very popular.” One couldn’t seem to turn on the television or radio without seeing Sami’s face, or hearing his voice. “Especially with the ladies.”

“I have contacts,” Sophia said. “I’ll get some tickets. Would you like to come?”

Madari looked at the poster again. “His music isn’t exactly traditional either,” he pointed out. But he was buying time, so as not to appear too eager to say yes. If Sophia could get tickets, he’d very much like to go. The young man on the poster, that handsome face and too-long, thick and shiny black hair had caught his eye the first time he’d chanced upon him while watching a television show. That night he’d dreamt about him. “His, um, his music is interesting though.” So is the way his hair brushes his throat in that picture. And the way he moves…

He checked that train of thought quickly. Absurd. A man of his age and position, with enough to conceal already, should not allow himself such fantasies. He wasn’t a besotted schoolgirl.

“Well, if you can get tickets,” he said, his voice carefully casual. “That would be nice.”


After the concert Madari drove Sophia home in his new BMW. Ironic that he’d finally bought himself a car more worthy of taking Sophia out right after breaking up with her. They remained friends – she’d called him a couple of months after they broke up and invited him and Kahil to her Christmas party. Madari quickly understood his new position – a good friend, but no more than that. For the past several months that had not changed.

A shame, because she looked good in the luxurious interior. So had Kahil. After giving the car a thorough inspection, he’d declared himself satisfied and slid into the passenger seat – golden-brown of his tanned skin against the cream-coloured leather – so Madari could take him for a spin around a few city blocks.

Madari drove into the car park at Sophia’s building and turned off the engine. “I will walk up with you,” he said.

“Thank you, but you don’t need to,” she said, taking her keys from her evening bag. “It’s perfectly safe.”

Nowhere was safe, and that protest outside the concert hall had reminded him of the reports he’d read of anti-foreign sentiment in the city. Agitators, of course. Most of the city’s inhabitants were welcoming of the foreigners who lived among them, but there were always people looking to stir up trouble.

“I insist.”

“You know there’s a doorman. And there are cameras in the stairwell that he can monitor.”

“But –”

“It’s safe.” Her voice took on a sharper tone, silencing him. “Goodnight, Faris.”

Before he could say anything else, she stepped out of the car and bent down to thank him for the nice evening and the ride home, in a slightly strained tone, before she closed the door. He watched her walk to the door and vanish inside, then looked up at the dark windows of her flat, waiting.

Had she thought he was trying to get her to invite him up? Perhaps he had been, using escorting her as an excuse. He hadn’t been alone in her flat with her since they broke up and he missed that.

Her lights came on and he let out a small sigh. Yes, it would be nice to be walking in there with her. Having coffee, some supper, chatting, and then… Well those days were over. He started his car and drove away.

It was only a short journey to his new flat, but he turned on the radio to pass the time. The voice of Sami filled the car. Of course. Madari rolled his eyes, as if there were someone he needed to fool into thinking he was exasperated by the ubiquity of the singer. But he didn’t change the station, just drove on and tried to focus his mind on the road ahead and not on those distracting images and sensations from his dreams.


“Is this guy ever out of the paper?” Jahni tossed aside a tabloid, with a picture of Sami gracing its front page and picked up a copy of the Az-Ma’ir Sunrise. He drank his coffee as he read.

Madari glanced at the picture – upside down – before turning back to his own paper and sipping his coffee. This morning coffee and newspaper session in the officer’s mess was shaping up into a tradition now that they generally arrived at the barracks at around the same time. It wasn’t only relaxation though. The increase in radical activities needed monitoring. They received daily reports from military intelligence of course, but the newspapers gave more of an idea of the mood of the country and the people. Jahni’s snort and the clatter of his coffee cup hitting its saucer made Madari look up.

“Hamin is at it again. Now he’s objecting to the opening of an AIDS clinic at Faisal Memorial. Says it encourages immoral behaviour.”

Madari glanced around. Jahni’s voice was carrying and a couple of officers looked his way. Madari had read the leader column too, and disagreed with Hamin as vehemently as Jahni did. But he’d said nothing and now felt ashamed of that. Cowardly. Fearing people would assume he had a special interest in the subject. Which he did. And didn’t. Both.

“Do you want more coffee?” Madari said, waved a hand to a messman, who came over with the coffee pot.

“The Sunrise makes me sick,” Jahni said, picking up his freshened cup. “If they’re so keen on keeping us in the Middle Ages maybe they should throw out their printing press.”

“Not to mention the computers,” Madari said, glad to take the conversation onto another path.

“Anything to shut them up,” Jahni muttered. “They’re the ones encouraging immoral behaviour if you ask me.”

“We can’t shut people up just because they have different views, Kahil” Madari said, though he certainly wished that Mr Hamin would go and become a sports or motoring reporter instead of a political and leader writer.

“When they encourage crime we should be able to,” Jahni argued. “Look at this. It says two women students were attacked by a gang of men and called insulting names. Just because they weren’t wearing head scarves.”

“What does that have to do with the Sunrise?”

“The Sunrise says the Hijab should be compulsory. Says the police should enforce it.” He snorted again. “Perhaps they want a special division – the fashion police.”

“The Saudis have religious police of that sort.”

“The Saudis are crazy. I’d rather sleep in a scorpion nest than live there.”

With his back to the rest of the room, Jahni couldn’t see the looks he was attracting, but Madari could and decided this conversation had gone as far as he’d let it go in public.

“Let’s get to the office,” he said, standing up and drinking the last of his coffee. Jahni swallowed his own and hurried to catch up. He still had a copy of the Sunrise and looked at it as they walked.

“There’s been a few of these vigilante attacks now.” His voice was calmer, more thoughtful than outraged. “They were mostly happening on the university campus before, but they’re going beyond that now onto the city streets.” He scowled. “A lot of them on women too. Cowardly bastards.”

Student radicals were hardly new, but if these radicals were attracting more members to their vigilante groups, or simply becoming bolder, then perhaps Jahni had a point about the role papers like the Sunrise played here. They didn’t always condemn these attacks. They’d run a small story about the protest at the concert hall last night, and hailed it as a good sign that young people were defending their local heritage. Madari was all for defending their own heritage of course. He just didn’t see that they had to eliminate the products of everyone else’s in order to protect theirs. Jahni stayed quiet for the rest of the walk, still thoughtful. When they reached their offices he tossed the newspaper into the rubbish bin.

The clerk handed a folder to each of them as they came into the offices. “Messages and the overnight status report. Oh, one more, Colonel, a phone message for you just a moment ago.” He tore a sheet from a message pad and handed it to Madari.

It was from Sophia. Please come over at lunchtime. Urgent.

“Something wrong?” Jahni asked.

“What? Um, no. Or, I don’t know.” He hurried into his office, leaving Jahni standing, looking surprised.

What could be urgent? It must be a problem. He called her number, but received only the answering machine, muttered a mild curse and hung up before the beep, then felt bad for not leaving a message. Should he drive over there now? But if she wasn’t answering the phone she must be out. If she’d wanted him to call back, that’s the message she’d have left.

Nothing for it but to wait until lunchtime. He sat at his desk and spent the morning watching the clock.


Noon was lunchtime, wasn’t it? It had better be, as it was only five minutes after noon when Madari pressed the bell to Sophia’s flat. She sounded surprised when she answered on the intercom, but buzzed open the gate and told him to come straight up.

The lobby doorman gave Madari an intrigued look. He must wonder why Madari didn’t come around so much lately. The reason would be easy to guess. Odd to think that the job of doorman would give such an intimate insight into the private lives of the building’s residents. He reached the flat and knocked. In a moment, Sophia opened the door a crack, then all the way, smiling at him.

“Come in, Faris. You’re very early.”

“You did say it was urgent.”

“Yes.” She led him into the living room. The aroma of roasting chicken came from the kitchen. “I hope you’ll join me for lunch.”

“I’d be happy to. But, that’s not why you called me here.”

“No.” She looked tense, he thought, almost wary. “I’m not sure I should talk to you about this, but I need your advice.”

“Please, if anything is wrong, you know I will do my best to help you.”

“I know.” She rested her hand on his arm briefly, before moving away to a table and picking up a piece of paper. “I received this in the post this morning.”

Madari took it and read the handwritten letter. Nausea swept over him as he read the threats and the vile insults in the letter. My god, how dare they? How dare they? Did they think because she was no longer his lover they could threaten her and get away with it? He and Jahni received similar blood curdling threats every day, but Sophia? Guilt joined nausea because he knew this was down to her association with him.

“My Arabic isn’t, ah, colloquial enough to understand all of it,” she said, sounding quite pleased about that. No, Madari thought, there were many words in it that a gentleman would never say in the presence of a lady. And yet some cowardly bastard, to borrow Jahni’s phrasing, had written those words to a lady. They’d pay for that.

“Do you still have the envelope?”

She gestured at the table and he saw a torn open envelope there. Stamped, so they weren’t foolish enough to bring it by hand. “Do you have some kind of folder?” he asked, carefully handling the letter away from its edges. “Military intelligence may be able to get prints off it.”

She left and came back into the room a few minutes later with a card folder and he put the letter and envelope into that, handling them as little as possible.

“I’m so sorry, my dear,” he said. “This is because of me. It’s not fair on you.”

“It’s not your fault. I think lunch is ready, please sit.”

He sat at the small living room dining table and she brought out the meal, serving them herself, making him wonder if her housekeeper was here, or if they were alone.

“I tried to call you this morning,” Madari said. She passed a dish of potatoes to him and he scooped some onto his plate. “After I got your message.”

“I had to go out.”

He put the dish down scowling. “After you got that letter you went out on your own?”

“What else was I supposed to do? Hide under the bed? I had work to do at the charity. Father Carerra was expecting me.”

Madari sighed and toyed with his food. Though he had no right to start telling her what to do, still he felt an obligation to keep her safe. But he needed to be diplomatic about it.

“You need to increase security here. Always use the chain on your door and get a peephole. Those windows onto the balcony need better locks. Also… well, I hate to say this, but perhaps you and I shouldn’t be seen to be friends any longer. If it puts you in danger, then I have no right –”

“Faris, nobody has been able to dictate to me who my friends should be since I was a child. I’m not letting them start now.”

The determined look on her face made him smile. He lifted his glass to her in salute. “You’re a woman of courage, my dear.”

It wasn’t her choice really, he could simply stay away. But he didn’t want to. A man needed courageous friends to stand by him in the face of danger. Who could say if it would help anyway? She was already associated with him. Simply stopping seeing her now wouldn’t help, she’d still be a target. Better to be close to her where he could protect her. Of course, he couldn’t be with her all of the time. But there was an alternative.

“Sophia, I want you to consider employing a bodyguard.”

She stared at him, her fork frozen with a piece of chicken on it. “Are you serious?”

“It’s quite common. Many of the wealthy families employ guards for the women and children when out in public.”

Her hand unfroze and she ate the chicken, looking thoughtful. “I thought that was to protect them from kidnappers.”

The terror that she could be not simply attacked, but abducted, stabbed through Madari and he felt sure his voice shook when he answered. “That’s one of the reasons of course. Anyway, there are several reputable agencies based here in the city. I can give you my recommendations. I’d be happy to help with the cost, of course.” When she frowned, he hurriedly added, “since our friendship is what’s made this necessary.”

“Well, we’ll discuss that later. Do you really think it’s necessary? You’re not overreacting to that letter, are you? Perhaps I shouldn’t have shown it to you.”

“Sophia, I am not overreacting. I am a target, I get letters like that every day, and you know there have been attempts on my life. Your association with me makes you a target too. I am sorry about that, and I can protect you by staying away. But if you don’t want me to do that, then, please, take my advice.” There, now that sounded diplomatic, not bossy. Not telling her what to do. “You would only need the guard for going out in public places,” he went on. “I don’t think it’s so bad yet that you need one twenty-four hours a day.”

“Yet?” Always perceptive, she picked up on the important word.

“I’m afraid the situation is getting worse. Agitators are increasing their activities.”

“The Saifullah supporters?”

“Ah,” he said, teasing. “So you do listen when I talk about my work.”

“Sometimes,” she said also teasing. With the tension broken, the conversation became more light-hearted, and they talked about friends and gossip as they ate. Madari felt the cat brush against his legs under the table, and smiled to himself, enjoying the familiarity of all of this. When Sophia took away their plates, telling him to stay where he was for dessert and coffee he reached down to tickle Giotto behind the ears, making him purr.

The dessert was fresh fruit and cream and he lingered over that and his coffee, but saw Sophia check her watch and pulled himself together. This was pleasant, but she probably had things to do, and he certainly did. While she cleared the table, he wrote down a list.

“Here,” he said, tearing the paper from his notebook and handing it to her. “The agencies I recommend.”

“Thank you, Faris. I’ll make arrangements at once.”

“When you choose someone you’ll have to send him to the barracks so I can… ah, assess him.”

The teasing tone crept into her voice again. “By ‘assess’ you mean, set Kahil on him, don’t you?”

Chapter 2

Two days later, Sophia telephoned Madari at his office to tell him she’d chosen a bodyguard.

“Excellent,” he said. “I’m glad you got it sorted out so quickly. So, tell me about him.”

“Alex Black, formerly of the British Army, a sergeant. A physical training instructor, specialising in martial arts.”

“Oh, excellent.”

“I thought you’d approve.”

“Very much. Send him over, this afternoon if possible. It sounds like he and Kahil will really put each other through their paces.”

She laughed, he wasn’t sure why. “Of course. Alex will come over right away.”

“Good. Is something funny?”

“Oh, nothing at all.” Her amused tone belied her words. “I’ll speak to you later.”

“I’ll call this evening.”

“Oh, I think it will be sooner than that.” She laughed again and hung up before he could ask her why. Strange. Madari made a call to Jahni to alert him that Mr Black was on his way over and went back to doing his paperwork.

About an hour later the guard house telephoned to tell Madari “Alex Black” was here to see him.

“I’m expecting him,” Madari said. “Bring him straight to my office please.”

“Ah…” the guard said, in a hesitant tone and then snapped out “Sir, yes, sir!” and hung up the phone. Everyone seemed to be acting quite strangely today. He called Jahni, who was down on the firing range, to say Black was here and to join them at his earliest convenience. While he waited, he ordered one of the clerks to bring tea. Might as well make the man feel welcome, before Jahni took him away to stand on his neck.

In a few minutes, the clerk brought in the tea and Jahni came into the outer office, where Madari was waiting for the visitor. Hard on his heels came a private from the gate house. A woman walked at his side. She swept a glance around the room, then stepped up to Madari offering her hand.

“Colonel Madari?” She spoke in Arabic. “Hello, sir. I’m Alex Black.”

Madari stared. The private from the gate fled without waiting for dismissal. The office clerks froze, silent. Only one man spoke, Jahni, in a soft voice, in English.

“Bloody hell.”


Now he knew why Sophia had said he would call her back sooner than that evening. Madari stood in his office with the door closed, but the blinds up so he could see Alex out there waiting, talking to Jahni. When Sophia answered the phone, he spoke without preliminary.

“Is this a joke?”

“Whatever can you mean, Faris?”

“Alex Black! She’s a woman!”

“You were very impressed with what I told you before. You’ve changed your mind?”

“Of course I have!” He could understand it if she looked more… fearsome. But she was barely five feet seven by his estimate and slender. Entirely harmless looking that he could see. Though there was something about the way she moved, and the way she looked around, took everything in. But still, she was a woman. “Sophia, this is serious, your life could be at stake. This is hardly the time for making some kind of political point about women’s rights.”

“Talk to her, Faris. She’s qualified and experienced. Assess her just as you planned to. Then call me back.” She hung up.

Assess her? Well, he could talk to her and check her credentials, but he could hardly expect her to spar with Jahni now. Entirely out of the question. He went to the door.

“Miss Black, would you care to come in? Kahil, you too. Corporal, bring that tea in now.”

Jahni and Alex came in. She handed Madari a folder. “My CV and credentials, Colonel. Madame Giordano said you’d want to check them.”

“Thank you. Please have a seat.” He sat, reading the folder, and glancing at her. She hadn’t reacted to his hands, he noticed. People not used to them did usually at least flicker a glance at the scarred fingernails when he first shook their hands, but she hadn’t and she wasn’t looking at them now as he held the folder. Perhaps Sophia had warned her about them.

“You joined the Army straight from school?” he said, reading the dates of her service.

“Yes, sir. I’m from a military family. Both my parents were in the Army and all but one of my brothers are.”

“What does the other one do?” Jahni asked.

“He’s a Royal Marine commando.”

“Ah, the black sheep of the family” Jahni said with a wry smile.

“We’re thinking of disowning him.” She returned his smile.

“Why did you leave the Army?” Madari asked. “Didn’t you like it?”

“Oh, I loved it, sir. But I wanted to do something more hands on, you know. Being an instructor was great, but in the end it was kind of frustrating. So I went into close protection work.”

“And how did you end up out here in Qumar?”

“I worked in London for three years and a lot of the clients were the wives and daughters of visitors from the Middle East. I learned Arabic because of that, and three years ago my agency sent me out to Dubai. I worked there for two years and then they transferred me here.”

“Your Arabic is very good,” Madari said. He’d been expecting to have to speak English.

“Thank you, sir.”

“But, I’m afraid I must admit I don’t understand this. You’re a woman. How can you be a bodyguard?”

She didn’t appear to take offence at the blunt question. “I’m rated sharpshooter with pistol and rifle. I’m a black belt in Judo and the other martial arts training I have is there on my CV.”

“Yes, I see. It’s all very impressive. But, can you actually fight a man?”

She smiled. “I’d be happy to demonstrate.” She gave Jahni a speculative look. No doubt Sophia had warned her that a sparring session against Jahni was supposed to be included in this ‘assessment.’ But that was before they’d met her.

“I’m not sure that’s appropriate,” Madari said.

“I promise not to break any bones.” Her deadpan expression made Madari stare and Jahni bristle a bit.

“I’m SAS trained,” he said, pronouncing it “sass”.

“I know,” she said. “Kahil Jahni. First Qumari to do Selection. Still the one who holds the record for the best time for the Long Drag.”

“Um, right. I am?” Jahni grinned. “Still? Well, that’s…” He stopped, looking at Madari. “We could at least let her try out the pistol range.”

Madari put down the folder. Her experience and credentials all looked fine, but, still it didn’t make sense.

“Sir, I understand,” Alex said, looking at Madari again. “I don’t look like a standard issue bodyguard.”

She glanced at Jahni. Did she know that he used to be Madari’s bodyguard during their years as guerrillas? It would seem to be foolish to think she didn’t, she’d done her research.

“But please consider the logic of it, Colonel. Signora Giordano needs someone to accompany her as she goes about her daily business. What about when she goes to the beauty salon, or a ladies clothing shop,? A man can’t accompany her into those places, but I can. Close protection is no good if the guard can’t stay close.”

There was an inescapable logic there and Jahni got it and carried it further. “That’s why you had lots of Arab clients in London. And of course, you can be alone with them, where a man couldn’t.”

“Exactly. Once I learnt Arabic I became the specialist. If you see in the folder there, sir, I do have some personal recommendations.” Madari picked it up and looked at those more closely. Yes, several glowing references from clients from Middle Eastern clients.

“Very well, Miss Black. If Major Jahni is still agreeable, then you can give us a demonstration of your skills.”


Jahni walked out of the locker room in workout clothes, to find Madari and Alex waiting for him. She’d changed into similar workout gear to his own and he recalled she’d been carrying a gym bag when she came in. The clothes must have been in there, but goodness knows where she’d changed into them. He walked onto the mat, rolling his shoulders and Alex joined him. Her close-fitting workout clothes showed off a lean and athletic figure and gave her a more threatening air than when she’s arrived wearing a modest ensemble of black trousers and long sleeved shirt topped with a linen jacket.

“Warm up?” She suggested, going into some stretches. Jahni followed her lead, but stuck to his own routine, exchanging smiles when they went into the same stretch at the same time.

“Snap,” she said. Then, done, she shook out her limbs, bounced a couple of times on the balls of her feet, making Jahni look away to avoid staring at her chest. He looked at Madari instead, saw him glance at his watch.

“I have a meeting in forty-five minutes,” Madari reminded them.

“Okay.” Jahni turned to her and she gave him a small bow, which he returned. “How do you want to do this?”

“You play the part of an attacker,” she said, “Assume that they’ve spotted I’m security and are trying to take me out.” She glanced over at Madari. “Later on we’ll get the colonel to play the part of the client, and you can attack him.”

“Now that’s going to be a new one.”

They started cautiously. He let her throw him a few times, wondering if she could really do that if he wasn’t cooperating. On the other hand what were the odds of Sophia being attacked by someone with the same training as him, and in such top shape?

After about thirty minutes they took a break. “Your technique is excellent,” Jahni said, passing her a towel, both of them glowing nicely with sweat now. He took a swig of water. “If a little predictable.”


“I do notice that’s an issue with men… ah, people who are trained in sports martial arts. Rather than something more ad-hoc.”

“Ad hoc?” She laughed. “Oh, I can do ad-hoc.” She turned to call to Madari who sat on a bench by the wall. He’d said little so far, just watched. “Colonel, will you help us out? Be the client?” She tossed away the water bottle as Madari slipped off his jacket and shoes and joined them on the mat.

“What do you want me to do?” Jahni asked.

“Try to stab him,” she said. “Come up from behind. In your own time.”

Jahni exchanged a look with Madari, finding the situation a little bizarre. He’d die before raising a hand against Madari in earnest. Even this play-acting made him uneasy. But Madari nodded, trusting Jahni not to hurt him accidentally, and turned his back. Jahni moved back, silent on the mat, and slipping the blunt ended piece of plastic they’d been using as a “knife” into his palm and up his sleeve.

Despite the disturbing idea of attacking the familiar figure before him, he considered it carefully. If he was an attacker – and assuming he thought Alex was just a friend of the target, not security – how would he do it? Low, he thought, especially in a public street, keep the knife out of sight. He let the fake knife slip down out of his sleeve as he moved, in fast, gripping it now, arm swinging back to make an under and upwards thrust.

He never touched Madari. Alex placed herself between them before he got there, grabbing Jahni’s wrist and twisting – only enough to make her point. If she’d followed through with that hold she’d break the hold on the knife, and possibly a few bones. Obligingly he dropped the knife. So far, so ordinary, but her next moves took him by surprise. He wasn’t even able to take them in, before her foot was thumping into the back of his right knee. A second later he was on his back, his right wrist still in her grip, her foot on his left arm and a pistol in her hand pointing straight at his face.

“You did unload that before we started, didn’t you?”

She grinned and turned it up right away. “Ad hoc enough for you?”

“Very.” She moved off him letting him sit up. Madari was looking down at him, amusement and surprise warring on his face and Jahni was glad the rest of the men weren’t here to see him taken down by a woman for real – he hadn’t cooperated that time. Taking her offered hand he got to his feet. “I didn’t see that coming. In fact, I didn’t see it arrive!” Madari gave way to the amusement and laughed. “What was that? It certainly wasn’t Judo.”

“Krav Maga. It was mentioned on my CV,” she said, looking at Madari.

“Yes, it was,” he admitted, looking only slightly guilty and still amused.

“Thanks for the warning,” Jahni said dryly. “Aren’t you late for your meeting, sir?”

Madari checked his watch and grimaced. “Yes. Shame, this is rather more fun. Miss Black.” He held his hand out to her. “I’ll be busy the rest of the day. But it’s good to meet you and I have to say, I am reassured by your demonstration here. See you again soon, I’m sure.”

“Thank you, Colonel. It’s good to meet you. May I stay on for a bit longer with Major Jahni?”

Madari looked doubtful, presumably thinking the two of them shouldn’t be left alone together, but Jahni nodded.

“That’s fine with me. Leave the door open.” Let others make of it what they would if they looked in and saw him sparring with a woman. He wanted to see those moves again. Slowly at first. Madari put his shoes and jacket back on and left them to it.

“So,” Jahni said, picking up their water bottles and handing one to her. “Krav Maga.”

“I know it’s not widely used in Arab countries, being an Israeli thing.”

“True, but, it’s something I’ve been interested in learning more about myself.”

“Major, with your SAS training I think you’d be able to counter any Krav Maga moves without much trouble, fighting for real.”

“It never hurts to learn a few more moves. And call me Kahil.”

“Only if you call me Alex.”

Given some of the grappling they’d done so far, it seemed silly to stand on ceremony, so he smiled and nodded. If she was going to be Sophia’s bodyguard then they’d probably meet quite often. It might as well be on friendly terms.

“Alex. Now, let me show you some of my moves.”


Another hour and they were through, sitting on the mat drinking water, both sweating and pink in the face from the workout.

“I hope you’re convinced now,” she said, “because I have to report back to the office at some point today.”

“I had to give you a good trial,” Jahni said, smiling, then going more serious. “I mean it. Sophia is important to the Colonel, and to me. We just want to be sure she’ll be safe. You were a surprise, that’s all.”

“A soldier should always try to use the element of surprise.”

“Very true.”

“You see the logic though, about how I can go everywhere she can. Changing rooms, saunas.” She stopped when Jahni smiled. “What, you think a person can’t be attacked in the sauna?”

“Not at all. In fact the Colonel was attacked in a sauna.”


“An assassin tried to stab him. The Colonel killed him.” Jahni smiled and drank some water, enjoying her amazed look. “With his bare hands,” he added.

“With his bare everything,” she said with a grin and Jahni drank more water, glad he was already flushed from exertion, hiding his blush. “How?” She asked.

“Palm heel strike,” Jahni said, tapping the heel of his hand. “The attacker had him on the floor, and the Colonel…” He mimicked the movement, thrusting his hand up in a sharp movement, leading with the heel. “Crushed his windpipe.”


“Did I mention that when he did it, he’d already been stabbed twice and had a burst eardrum from a blow to the head?”

She looked more than impressed now, she gaped. Jahni smiled and drank more water in a nonchalant manner. Alex looked at the open door, where Madari had left an hour ago and shook her head.

“And I thought he seemed like a thinker, not a fighter. No offence, but he doesn’t look like much, in the physical sense.”

Jahni took some offence, thinking of how Madari looked in his uniform, that rangy physique, and long legs. How could someone call that not looking like “much”? What about that masculine elegance, even grace… where was he? Oh yes.

“He’s stronger than he looks. He doesn’t have a lot of bulk, but he’s wiry.”

“Well, there you go. Should never underestimate someone.”

“Touché,” he said, suspecting that was if not a dig, at least a reminder. He wouldn’t underestimate Alex again. “Have you got time to go to the shooting range?”

“Not really, I have to report back to the office. Better get moving in fact.” He followed as she got to her feet.

“Well, you’ll have to come back in sometime. Though if you’re as good with a gun as you are hand to hand…”

“I’m better.”

He raised an eyebrow at her confident statement. “Really.”

“I’d rather stop an attacker when he’s still twenty feet away than have to engage hand to hand.”

He wondered exactly what she meant by “stop” an attacker, but decided that was her business. If she had to shoot a man to keep him from hurting Sophia, Jahni would cheer her on. The way she’d handled her pistol during their sparring he had no doubt she was a expert with that too. When he held out his hand for a shake, it was more than a goodbye. In fact, more a kind of greeting, for someone who just may be an interesting new friend.

Chapter 3

“Why is Miss Black coming?” Madari asked Sophia.

He had followed her through to her bedroom and received a frown for the liberty, but didn’t want to ask in front of Alex, who was in the living room with Jahni, waiting to leave for the Sami concert. Trying not to trespass too far into a place he no longer had any right to be, he stayed by the door.

“I had four tickets,” Sophia said, taking out the earrings she was wearing. They’d gone out of fashion in the past ten minutes or something, Madari supposed

“And you have many friends, some of whom I’m sure would have enjoyed being Kahil’s, ah, date for the night.”

“That’s true,” she said, rummaging in her jewellery case. “But I want to get to know her if I’m going to spend so much time with her. Besides, you can watch her work, assess her some more.”

“But she doesn’t need to work,” Madari argued. “You’re with me and Kahil. Why would you need a bodyguard?”

“You can’t watch the concert and act as my guard at the same time.” She turned to him, the earrings she’d put on catching the soft, warm light. “Do you think my hair is too formal? Perhaps I should let it down.” She turned back to the mirror.

“We’re going to be late.” He looked at his watch.

“Relax, Faris.” She pulled out a clip, shook her hair out and picked up a brush. Madari swallowed hard. The swish of the brush strokes as she restyled her hair was the only sound in the room for a few moments. He watched her in the mirror, remembering when he’d been able to run his hands through her hair, muss it from its usual perfection. Remembering how it looked rumpled after sleep, after sex.

She caught his gaze in the mirror and they held that for a moment, both of them serious. Could she be regretting her choice to throw him over? It was the only choice a proud woman like her could make, but did she miss him as he missed her? If Kahil and Alex weren’t waiting for them only yards away, would he dare to stride over to her, slide a hand around her waist and draw her close, whispering to forget the concert?

How many people who knew them honestly believed they were broken up anyway? How many assumed they still slept together? And if people assumed that, why should they not… on a more ad-hoc basis than before?

Ad-hoc made him think of Kahil hitting the mat on his back. Only in Madari’s mind he was the one to take him down and they were laughing and he certainly didn’t threaten him with a gun afterwards.

My god, sometimes he felt like a schizophrenic. Just who was he? What kind of man? Sophia turned from the mirror, putting down her hairbrush and Madari reached behind himself for the doorknob before she smiled at him, as she picked up a gauzy green wrap from the bed.

“You’re right, we’re late. We’d better go.”

Madari held the door open for her as she walked through it, giving him a nod of thanks. He didn’t touch her.


“Those are nice earrings,” Jahni said to Alex as they sat waiting for Madari and Sophia to emerge from the bedroom. She looked up from tickling the cat behind the ears.

“They were a gift from a client in Dubai.”

It didn’t sound very professional to accept gifts from clients. Perhaps she saw disapproval on his face as she went on.

“More a reward. After a kidnap attempt on his daughter.”

“Which you stopped?”

She nodded and the emerald studs in her ears sparkled in the light. “The first time I killed a man. Very different from working in London.”

Her tone was quite level and she wore stones she’s been given as a reward for killing a man. Jahni’s emotions warred between marvel at her calm about it and a chill at the same thing. The first time I killed a man. It took him back such a long way, to a night on a lonely desert road. The first time. More that night and so many since then. He’d never counted. How many had she killed? She said “first time”, so did that mean there were others?

“We’re going to be late,” Jahni said, looking at the clock – Madari and Sophia had been in the bedroom over five minutes – he thought it just as the two of them emerged. Sophia’s hair was now loose around her shoulders and Madari looked rather flushed. Jahni’s fingernails dug hard into his palms.

“We’d better hurry,” Madari said, not looking at Jahni. “We’ll miss the start.”


Alex was a little unsubtle Jahni thought. Personally, he’d long ago learnt how to case a room without appearing to do so. Alex did the same as him, noting the exits, the occupants, looking for threats, but it was more obvious that’s what she was doing. Obvious to him at least. Perhaps it was deliberate though. She knew he and Madari were still assessing her abilities. Was she putting on a show for them?

The lobby at the concert hall had five exits, two of them to the outside, two into the concert hall, one leading to the toilet facilities. Jahni saw few threats in there. In fact, there were few men there. Some husbands accompanying wives, rather more fathers with daughters. He smiled at a harassed looking man with four girls, their ages ranging from around ten to late teens. Perhaps Alex should give him her business card, and next time he could stay at home and let her take his daughters to the concert.

But most of the people in the lobby were women and girls. This Sami was certainly popular with women and looking at the posters, Jahni knew that wasn’t just about his music. Personally he was pretty indifferent to the music. But the man? Jahni recognised the good looks, but he needed a haircut, and didn’t he have rather a weak jaw line?

Sophia went to the ladies cloakroom, Alex accompanying her – that logic again. Madari and Jahni could certainly protect her, but they couldn’t go in there with her. Madari and Jahni waited and Jahni felt abruptly self conscious in this room full of women, here because of the singer’s handsome face. Madari held Sophia’s green wrap over his arm, and Jahni wondered if it served as a kind of signal – that he was only here to accompany a woman.

“Alex seems to know her business,” Jahni said to Madari.

“Yes,” Madari agreed. “I’m starting to feel better about her. She did fine sparring against you, though I’m still not sure about in the field.”

“She said that if she actually had to fight a man she’s already failed in her job. That she’d rather stop them before they get close enough for that.”

“Good point,” Madari said.

“I know when I was your bodyguard I felt the same way. Anyone getting close to you should only be there with my permission.”

“You were very good at it.” He sipped ice water, looking a little flushed. “It’s very warm tonight. So, you and Miss Black are getting on well?”

“Yes, fine.”

“I think we’ll end up seeing a lot of her.”

Jahni frowned. Would they really? Did Madari still see Sophia often enough that he’d also be seeing a lot of Alex? And did that mean he’d have to bring Jahni along a lot of the time as a ‘date’ for Alex, to maintain the appearance of her being a friend of Sophia’s rather than a guard?

Oh, no, wait. Madari wasn’t going to start matchmaking again, was he? Since Jahni had so far failed to propose marriage to Karen Bennett, would Madari start trying to get him to do so to Alex? He hoped not. She had a body that certainly rivalled Karen’s, though Karen was more shapely where Alex was almost masculine. Karen was prettier, and smiled more. Alex wore her hair short – for her job, he suspected, long hair could be grabbed – and her face, while not unappealing, was almost permanently wary. Quite nice hazel eyes though.

But, it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. If she was a professional about her job she wouldn’t get involved with a friend of her client. That could cause her to be distracted on the job, taking more notice of her lover than her client.

“She’s coming back in to show me her shooting,” Jahni said, realising Madari was waiting for him to answer.

“Good.” Madari looked pleased. Oh, for sure he was readying his cupid bow and arrow again. Jahni sighed. Oh, Faris, give it up.


“Backstage passes?” Madari said to Sophia. “You really do have contacts.”

The concert over, the four of them headed backstage, into the bustling maelstrom behind the scenes. Both Alex and Jahni instantly looked unhappy, then calmed down to simple wariness. There were a lot of people around, but they took no notice of Sophia’s party, all rushing around, working, calling out arcane jargon about lighting and stage sets. A woman brushed past the group both carrying and draped with gaudy costumes, a riot of brilliant colours. Men heaved around lights, amplifiers, musical instruments. Performers moved among them, their costumes and make up surprising Madari. What had looked so fine on stage was bigger, cruder, bolder up close, all subtlety gone. Clothes that had looked like fine silks, satins and linen were more obviously simply costumes made of synthetic cloth. What looked like embroidery revealed as nothing but painted or printed patterns.

Sami himself was an exception. They came into his large dressing room, which was full of people, to find the young man holding court, surrounded by admirers. His clothes were more obviously the real thing, a long black linen shirt, with silver embroidery, that he’d been wearing on stage. After his performance on this hot night it stuck to him in places. His hair was limp, the stage make-up around his eyes smudged and blurred. He took long drinks from a water bottle between talking and laughing with the people around him.

He looked older than he did on the posters, though certainly no more than thirty. The dark smudges of the melted make-up around his eyes, gave him a tired and bruised look, that provoked a surge of protectiveness in Madari. He shook that away as ridiculous.

Sophia manoeuvred them deftly through the crowd and spoke to a man there that Madari recognised from some of Sophia’s parties. The man introduced her to Sami and in turn she introduced her party. A look of surprise flickered across Sami’s face at the mention of Madari and Jahni’s names. But he covered that with a smile and gave them both a firm handshake, thanking them for coming to his show. Alex got a wider smile, as wide as the one he’d given Sophia, and a small bow of his head.

She responded with no more than politeness, before going back to watching the crowd around them, especially anyone behind Sophia. Sophia herself was more than polite, Madari saw, his eyes narrowing a bit as Sami turned back to her and began asking if she’d enjoyed the music. She positively simpered, clearly taken with him. Well, that was understandable. But he’d seen her around good-looking young men before, she was usually quite calm and collected.

He watched them closely, watched the singer working her and the rest of the people nearby. Himself too, he knew, catching the man’s eye from time to time, and receiving a smile. The smiles lit Sami’s face in a way that made up for the results of his exertion. And the flush in his cheeks, the light sheen of sweat on his tanned skin, his hair heavy with it… they had a certain appeal. How easy to picture him lying on white cotton sheets flushed like this, hair spread on the pillow, still breathing hard, eyes hazy from satisfied desire.

Stop that!

Absurd. He was getting annoyed with Sophia’s simpering at Sami and he was probably doing the same thing himself. And those eyes were not hazy, but bright and intelligent. Did he sense Madari’s attraction? Being in show business, being so handsome, he must surely have been propositioned by men. Madari took a deep breath and looked away from that perceptive gaze, looked at Jahni instead, standing behind Sophia, not looking at Sami. Looking at Madari. Looking at Madari looking at Sami.

If Sami couldn’t detect Madari’s interest, he’d bet Jahni could, but he couldn’t read Jahni’s eyes. Suspicion? Jealousy? What about his own jealousy? Sami was still paying close attention to Sophia, that she was apparently enjoying. But surely she didn’t have any real interest in him? She had too much class to make a fool of herself over a younger man. That thought made him want to laugh at himself. Did he have the same amount of class?

Sophia was telling Sami about the charity now. Madari doubted she was soliciting a donation, usually subtler about that. But charities found celebrity endorsements useful.

“We raise money to send local children with rare conditions abroad for specialist medical treatment,” she explained. “With rare conditions there may be only one or two places in the world that offer a treatment.”

“That’s a very worthy cause, Signora,” Sami said. His face grew serious. “I had a sister who died of leukaemia when we were children. There wasn’t anything the doctors could do for her in the end.”

Sophia blushed and looked mortified. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that. I never intended to…”

“Of course not.” Sami touched her hand very briefly, a reassuring smile on his face now. “Did you say you’re having a fundraising party next week?”

“Yes, at the Hilton. You’re very welcome to come, if you’re not busy that night.”

He laughed, “Signora, I’m always busy. My father used to say I became a musician so I could sleep all day. I’m still waiting for even one such day.” The people around him laughed. “But I will make the time to come to your party at least for an hour.”

“Oh that would be wonderful,” Sophia said, a delighted smile on her face. It would almost certainly increase the attendance too, Madari thought, if she started putting the word out among her network.

“Will you be at the party, Colonel?” Sami asked, turning to Madari. A small burst of heat fluttered in Madari’s stomach as those kohl-smudged eyes turned to him.

“I hope so,” Madari said. “Sophia does usually manage to rope me in to help her. As long as there are no emergencies, I intend to be there.”

“Yes, I suppose your work is unpredictable,” Sami said. “You must have to react fast to situations.”

What did he think of the military? He wasn’t likely to be a supporter of the fundamentalists, not with his Western influences. But that didn’t have to mean he had much love for the establishment either. If that was the case would he say so here and provoke an argument with Madari? Which of course meant provoking an argument with Jahni too. He glanced at Jahni… who wasn’t there, Alex now standing where Jahni had been. Looking around the room he spotted Jahni standing near the wall, talking on his mobile phone, and knew instantly from the look on his face, that there was trouble.


The buzz of the phone in his pocket took Jahni’s attention from watching Madari and Sophia talk to Sami. Sophia had been paying the singer plenty of attention and Madari didn’t look happy about that. Jealousy? But he doubted Sophia had any real interest of that sort in the man, she was just responding to his charm.

Was Madari too? As the conversation went on Madari paid less attention to Sophia and more to Sami himself, almost as if he… but that was ridiculous. The phone broke Jahni out of those thoughts and he pulled it from his pocket. As he did so he met Alex’s eye, nodded and when he moved away from Sophia, she took his place, watching the crowd of people in the room.

Jahni moved to the edge of the crowd, the phone to one ear and his hand over the other to cut out the noise of the chattering people and the music playing in the background. As he listened to the duty officer, he grew colder.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. It’s on right now.”

Jahni turned as he reached the wall, looked around the room, searching. Ah, there, on a table behind Sami.

“I’ll call you back.” Madari was looking at him, but Jahni had no time to acknowledge that. He pushed his way through the crowd until he reached Sami, who gave him a curious look. But Jahni didn’t want him, he wanted to get at what was behind him. Only good manners kept him from shoving the other man aside.

“That television,” Jahni said. “Switch it on. Someone turn off that music.”

Sami stepped aside, with a look of surprise, perhaps not even aware there was a small television on the table behind him. Jahni stabbed at the power button and the sound of laughter burst from it. Some comedy show. He started to hit the channel buttons, hearing music, voices, more laughter.

“Turn off the music,” he demanded again.

“Kahil, what’s going on?” Madari asked. The background music cut out. Jahni stopped hitting buttons when he found the news broadcast. A man being interviewed by someone he recognised at once as Hamin of the Sunrise. In the corner of the screen words proclaimed this was an ‘exclusive tape’.

“Who is that?” someone said of the interviewee. Jahni turned to look at Madari, thought he saw a look of realisation, as Madari guessed the truth.

“I just had a call from the duty officer. The news claim it’s Saifullah.”

The room fell into silence, voices faltering as everyone turned to the television, the only voices now Hamin’s and the man he was interviewing. The timing was propitious, the next question rang out clearly in the quiet room.

“What is your long term ambition, Mr Saifullah? Are you able to tell us that?”

“Of course. I intend to see Qumar become an Islamic republic.”


“It’s treason,” Jahni said, as they arrived at the gatehouse of the barracks, after dropping off Sophia and Alex. “He said ‘republic’. That means he intends to depose the king. That makes it treason, pure and simple.”

Madari didn’t disagree, but didn’t answer this time, since Jahni had already said the same thing three times on the way over here. Madari wasn’t sure exactly what had made him drive here at this time of night. There wasn’t technically an emergency. There wasn’t much they could actually do. This was an important development of course, but they could analyse the tape in the morning. And even that, Military Intelligence would already be working on it, analysing every word spoken, every frame of film. But something told him he should be here now with his men and Jahni evidently felt the same.

Raian, the duty officer on call tonight, waited for them at the unit’s office suite.

“We’ve got a recording we made from the television, Colonel,” he said. “And Military Intelligence have already seized the original. They’re sending us a copy over as soon as they can, in case there’s any parts edited out of the broadcast.”

“Very good, Lieutenant. How are the men?”

“Well, it’s got their blood going for sure.”

Jahni snorted – clearly his blood was up too. Jahni and the men needed to talk about this. With no actual action to take, they’d be frustrated and looking to express their anger. Now Madari understood why he was here – to listen to the men. On-call nightshift was usually quiet and dull, the men doing little more than exercising and studying. They weren’t even allowed to use the shooting ranges, to avoid waking all those asleep in barracks and married quarters. Tonight’s shift would be livelier.

“Raian, have coffee and food sent to the men’s ready room.”

“Some to the officer’s ready room too, sir?”

“No, call everyone to the men’s ready room. Major Jahni and I will get changed and join you there in thirty minutes.”

“Yes, sir.” Raian hurried off.

“Thirty minutes?” Jahni said as he followed Madari in the direction of the locker room. It was rather a long time, but Madari shifted uncomfortably in clothes that felt heavy with sweat.

“Yes. I for one need a cold shower.”


“It’s treason!”

The men agreed with Jahni about Saifullah, but Kadry went even further. In his opinion, Mr Hamin was a traitor too. Madari wasn’t sure he agreed with that part. Sometimes journalists had to interview men they disagreed with, for the sake of getting the truth out. Or to give them enough rope.

“Military Intelligence have Hamin down at their HQ now,” Raian said. He’d been keeping in almost constant contact with them tonight, making sure Madari had the most up to date information. Excellent work.

“He won’t tell them anything,” Jahni said. “He’ll say he has to protect his sources.” The men sitting around the room muttered their opinions about that.

Could Hamin be made to reveal anything about the arrangements for the interview? According to the news reports, the group had approached him and offered an interview, to take place at a location of their choosing. In a way, you had to admire the journalist’s courage for going to meet such dangerous men, but Madari kept that thought to himself.

They watched the tape again, and Madari studied Saifullah closely. His enemy. There were few clues about the location of the interview, a rough white-washed wall behind him with some dirt but no markings or decoration on it. When the tape switched to show Hamin asking questions, the same wall appeared to be behind him. Those “reverse shots” were filmed separately, they all concluded. One camera only.

The man calling himself Saifullah – a man whose real name they should know soon – was quite young, mid thirties perhaps. He had neatly clipped hair and wore a short, tidy beard. His clothes were traditional, unsurprisingly, and he wore a black and white checked kuffiyah. His white clothes looked rather… well not dirty, more the general greyness associated with many washings. But he spoke like an educated man, even a rich man, whose clothes would be well laundered, by other people. But was he living in a large house somewhere, or out in the hills with his men in one of the camps Madari’s men were still looking for? They’d destroyed several, but often many of the occupants escaped and Madari knew they’d set up elsewhere. And there seemed to be no shortage of recruits.

Would there be less of a shortage now? Saifullah was showing his face, making a step into the light. He must feel he was in a strong position to declare himself this way. Would this public appearance help or hinder him? Frankly, it could only help, because the face on that screen was not the face of a monster. He was even quite good looking, or at least pleasant. A ready smile, bright, intelligent eyes. He spoke in such a reasonable tone that if you weren’t listening to the actual words, he sounded very plausible. He was a man you’d buy a used car from without a qualm. He wasn’t a scowling, ranting lunatic that small children would be scared of.

“He looks like my cousin Majid,” one of the men had said earlier, while they watched the tape. And then talked about what a nice fellow his cousin was. And that’s exactly how Saifullah came across.

How he came across… yes, that was important here. Madari had seen interviews before with rebel warlords of one sort or another. He’d been a rebel warlord, though nobody had ever interviewed him on camera about it. Usually such men liked to show their strength. Even if they didn’t tote a weapon themselves, they’d be sure to be surrounded by big tough men, carrying enough weapons for a battalion.

But Saifullah had none of that. Madari felt sure there were heavily armed men nearby, but they were kept off camera. This man didn’t want to look like a terrorist leader, he wanted to look like someone you could trust to run the country. He wanted to look like a politician.

Jahni and the men were right. That last sentence he spoke was treason. He said he wanted to see Qumar become an Islamic republic, but Madari knew he meant more than that, that he’d missed off the second part of his ambition. He wanted to see the country become an Islamic republic – with him as its leader.


Jahni woke when someone shook his shoulder. It was Madari, looking far too alert for this time of the morning, Jahni thought. He sat up on a sofa in the officer’s ready room, where he and Madari and the other on-duty officers had gone after a few hours. A buffet breakfast was laid out on a table and Jahni strolled over there, rubbing his eyes and trying to flatten down his hair.

“Now why exactly did we decide to spend all night here?” he asked, as Madari handed him a cup of coffee.

“It was important,” Madari said. “Didn’t you feel it? The change?” Jahni and the other officers looked at him with polite incomprehension. “Gentlemen, I hope you all understand what we witnessed last night. That was a declaration of war.”

The room silenced in a heavy gloom. Perhaps some of the officers had been denying that, not wanting to face the truth. But Madari was right, Jahni thought, drinking his coffee. Saifullah was no longer simply a terrorist. He’d declared his intention to seize power. That was civil war.

So the men had changed. The atmosphere had changed. A new era in their lives had begun. Of course Madari saw it. He had the sensitivity to understand when things changed that way.

“Sir!” Raian hurried into the room, carrying a file. “Sir, I just got this from Military Intelligence. It’s Saifullah’s real name!” He slapped the file onto the table in front of Madari, with a triumphant look on his face. “Our liaison brought it straight round. Nobody else has it but them and us.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Madari said, his voice calm, but a smile on his face at Rain’s enthusiasm. “Please, get yourself some breakfast while we look at it.” He opened it on the table in front of him and the assembled offices all craned to look at it.

Jahni was standing the nearest to Madari, but tried not to crowd him, however eager he was to read the information himself. Madari would tell them what they needed to know. And there’d be ample time later to study it in detail. And much more information would follow than the couple of printed sheets in the file.

“Basit al-Shehade,” Madari read. He frowned. “That’s an old family. Quite wealthy and long time supporters of the monarchy.”

“Looks like we’ve got the black sheep of the family,” Jahni said. Saifullah had sounded like a well-bred man on the tape. His wealthy and respectable background was no surprise.

“Youngest son of the brother of the head of the family,” Madari went on. “Born 1960. Studied history at Cairo university between 1978 and 1981.”

Jahni started. “What?” He resisted the urge to grab the paper from Madari’s hand. “I started at Cairo in 1980! Are you saying he was there at the same time as me?”

“Apparently,” Madari said. “He’d have been in his third year while you were a freshman. Do you remember him?” He handed Jahni a photograph, actually a still frame from the video.

Jahni shook his head, trying to take fifteen years off that face, but felt no recognition. “No, I don’t think so.” Of course, he’d been in a different year, studying a different course. Still, there hadn’t been so many Qumari boys at the university that Jahni didn’t know most of them. But he didn’t recall this one. Perhaps Shehade spent more time in the library than Jahni, who’d specialised in mooching in coffee houses with his friends and watching the women. He handed the picture back. “I’m sorry, no, I don’t remember him.”

“Alright. After that he went to America to do a master’s degree. Stayed there for a few years then… oh.” He went silent, reading. The officers waited, impatience on their faces. “He came home to fight in the war against the Soviet backed regime.” Now Madari looked right at Jahni. “He was a guerrilla fighter.”

Jahni felt a chill up his spine. Who was this man? Some strange reflection of himself? Or was there some cosmic joking going on here, giving their enemy these teasing connections to them?

“He was active only in the south, near the city,” Madari continued. “Hmm, I’ll have to check if his commander then is still alive, talk to him.” He made a note on the paper. “After the restoration he held a teaching post at the university here. Wrote articles and preached at a mosque.”

“Preaching fundamentalism?” Raian asked.

“Yes,” Madari said, nodding. “Described as an idealist but not a radical and classed as harmless according to a report from those years.” He shook his head. “Then something must have changed. Four years ago, he dropped out of sight and nobody knows where he’s been or what he’s been doing since then. His family even reported him missing.”

“I think we can take some guesses at what he’s been doing,” Jahni said with some bitterness. He still dreamt of the most recent attempt, Rahama’s car exploding, not being able to see Madari in the smoke, not knowing if he was alive or dead.

Madari closed the file. “Well, that’s a summary of the man. I know there’ll be much more to study later. We should get hold of all the articles he wrote, and see if there are any recordings or transcripts of his sermons.”

Jahni grimaced, not looking forward to reading those. But they had to. Basic military principle – know your enemy.

Chapter 4

Madari had confessed to Jahni that having the officers reading Saifullah’s articles and writings had worried him, afraid some of them might come to feel some sympathy for the man’s views, if he wrote as plausibly as he spoke. But after a week of them, Jahni personally felt no tremors in his own lack of religious faith.

The articles, like the man on that tape, which Jahni had seen an uncountable number of times now, seemed so reasonable, at face value. Until you thought them through, saw the implications. More than once he’d found his hand straying to the scar on his chest that marked the time a woman surgeon had saved his life. If Saifullah had his way she’d only ever be allowed to wield a kitchen knife, not a scalpel.

The implications of the words were being played out on the streets already. Reports every day in the papers of people being attacked by these vigilante enforcers. Attacks on foreigners. Attacks on women for being dressed immodestly.

He glanced over at Sophia, chatting with her guests at the fundraising party. Her dress was hardly revealing, but it was only knee length and her hair was uncovered. He knew she normally wore a headscarf when out in the summer during the day, but not always in the winter, when the sun was less fierce and never after dark. If she was attacked because of that…

Of course, now she had Alex. She was here tonight too, and Jahni wondered about why, when Sophia was surrounded by her friends, not to mention himself and Faris. Perhaps she was learning about Sophia’s daily routine, who her friends were. The thought occurred to him that as much as he and Faris had been assessing Alex, that she had been assessing them and working out their role in Sophia’s life.

Alex, hovering near to Sophia, but not at her elbow, caught his eye. To his surprise, she came over.

“Leaving your post?” he said.

“I’m not actually working tonight. Sophia just invited me to the party. And I never turn down free food.”

Jahni grinned at that. “Me neither.” These parties weren’t his idea of fun really, but the catering was always spectacular. “Let’s eat.”

They wandered over to the buffet table together and began loading their plates. She ate properly anyway, Jahni thought, seeing her putting plenty of food on her plate. Just like Karen. None of this ladylike pretending to eat like a bird.

“I enjoyed the shooting range,” she said, referring to her second visit to the barracks a couple of days ago.

“You did very well.” She’d have beaten some of the men with pistol if she went head to head. “Of course, since you’re off duty, I don’t suppose you’re armed tonight.”

She looked at him and must have seen the teasing look in his eyes, and grinned. She gave him a quick flash of a belt holster under her long jacket. “Glock 26. The new sub-compacts.”

“Ah,” he said with a grin. “Evening wear.”

“They’re very dainty, yes. A girl does need her accessories.”

The weight of his own Browning in its shoulder holster was reassuring. Neither he nor Madari went anywhere without their sidearms now. Madari found it annoying and intrusive, but Jahni felt jittery if he didn’t have his on him.

“Kahil,” Alex said. “Do you think I could come into barracks and spar with you again? Or if not the barracks, somewhere else?”

“You want to spar with me again?” Was this her way of making a pass at him? He hadn’t detected any obvious signs of interest. “Alex, you don’t have to prove yourself. You already showed me you can do your job.”

“I know. I just meant, actually to do that regularly. As training. Maybe a couple of times a week?”

“Oh.” He bit a pastry and thought about it. “I’m not sure it’s really appropriate. Aren’t there other women who work for your agency that you can train with?”

“Of course, and we do train together, but I need to train against men. How likely is it do you think that Sophia would be attacked or abducted by a woman?”

“Okay, that’s a good point. Why me though?”

“Because you’re damn good! You’re SAS trained. You’re in great shape. You’re strong.”

“Keep going,” he said, letting himself smirk. She rolled her eyes in response to that.

“And not overburdened with modesty. I know it’s unlikely I’d ever face anyone as well trained as you. But practicing against you means I’d be ready for anything.”

“It’s just…” He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to think of a genuinely good reason to turn her down and couldn’t. If it made her better at taking care of Sophia, then he’d train with her every day. “Some people might… talk.”

“Because I’m a woman, yes, I know. But that’s another reason I asked you. You seem a bit more open minded.”

“I do?”

“Okay, you’re not likely to be going on any Women’s Lib marches, but you, and the colonel, you took me seriously, eventually. Once I’d shown you I could do the job. Plenty of other men around here would still have refused to do so.”

She was right about that. Jahni smiled, wondering if Karen Bennett and Becky Wallace had been an even bigger influence on him than he thought. Then he frowned. Because if someone like Saifullah came to power, no woman in this country would be allowed to reach even part of her potential the way Alex was doing.

“I’ll have to ask the colonel if it’s okay for you to come into the barracks. But I don’t think he’ll mind. I’ll call you and we’ll organise something.”

She smiled and held out her hand to him to shake on the deal. “I look forward to kicking your arse on a regular basis, Major,” she said with a teasing grin, then looked past him. “Oh, that singer fella is here.”

Jahni looked around to see Sami and a small entourage coming into the room, looking around. No sign of Sophia, Jahni realised she must be out on the terrace, Madari with her, and he couldn’t spot anyone else he recognised as committee members from the charity. He’d better step into the breach he supposed. With Alex as his entourage, he went over and shook Sami’s hand.

“Hello again,” Jahni said.

“Major Jahni, hello. Miss Black, nice to see you.”

“Sophia’s out on the terrace, I think,” Jahni said as Sami shook hands with Alex, giving her a smouldering look that Jahni suspected he gave to all women. “Let me show you.”

She was indeed out there on the wide terrace, along with at least twenty other guests, seeking the evening breeze. Paper lanterns lit the terrace, bobbing softly. Fragrant flowers trained on poles wafted scent across it.

“Oh, how lovely to see you,” Sophia said, stepping forward towards Sami. Madari followed her, smiling too. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“I wouldn’t have –”

A crack, high above interrupted his words. Sami stopped and looked down at himself – at the red stain spreading across his cream coloured shirt. Jahni had only a second to see the same redness begin to cover his back, before the man began to topple backwards into Jahni’s arms. A woman screamed and then there was chaos.

Jahni ignored the chaos. He didn’t let Sami’s weight pull him to the ground, but backed rapidly inside the doors, dragging the singer with him. Only once inside did he lower him to the floor. Alex dropped to her knees beside them both, instantly leaning over to listen for breathing.

“Shit!” She tipped Sami’s head back and breathed into his mouth, then began chest compressions, under the horrified gaze of the party guests, crowding back in the doors, still screaming and crying.

Madari was safe, Jahni saw. Sophia too. There’d only been one shot. A couple of men who’d come in with Sami, his own bodyguards, Jahni assumed, ran to help, so Jahni ran to Madari, who had his pistol out and was flattened against the wall by the window. He was looking at the building opposite the now deserted terrace, littered with glasses, plates and food.

“Keep away from the windows,” Madari ordered. “It was the top floor. Come on!” He must have seen movement in the window where the shot came from. “Miss Black, secure the scene,” he called as they passed her, standing up now, while the two men worked on Sami. She had a mobile phone in her bloodstained hands and nodded her acknowledgement of Madari’s order while dialling.

The lobby was almost as chaotic as the function room. Madari grabbed a doorman as they passed. “Keep everyone inside and away from the doors!”

Jahni passed him, was first out of the hotels’s doors. He doubted the sniper was still a danger in the sense he would try to shoot anyone else. But they weren’t on their way to stop him shooting again, rather to stop him escaping. Still, they made best use of cover out there, ornamental trees in pots, floral displays and then cars, to get across the road. In a moment they were out of the line of fire, but outside the locked glass doors of an office building closed up for the night.

“Stand back.” Jahni aimed his Browning at the thick safety glass. Three shots and it shattered and fell out of the frame. They ran inside, shoes crunching on the shattered nuggets of glass. Madari ran to a floor plan of the building displayed by the lift, while Jahni ran to the reception desk, where he could see a small office behind it, lights on.

Please let there be security cameras…

Damn. “There’s a dead man here! Night-watchman,” he called to Madari, bending over to check for sure that the man in the security company uniform was actually dead. No doubt about it. Leaving the poor man, Jahni ran into the office and cursed to see the security monitors all dark and the controls in front of them smashed. No help there. Madari appeared at the door, but covering the lobby still, not looking at Jahni.

“Two stairwells. One there.” He gestured. “One at the back, fire escape.”

“I’ll take that one,” Jahni said instantly. It was the most likely one for the escaping killer to use.

Madari didn’t argue. “Disable the lift,” he ordered. He pressed the call button, and Jahni dragged over a chair from behind the reception desk, shoved it into the open lift door. The door tried to close, touched the chair and opened again.

“Right, let’s go,” Madari ordered. “He could be gone already. Shoot on sight.”

No question about that. They ran. Madari heading for the beautiful wooden staircase leading from the lobby, Jahni through into the offices that would take him to the back of the building. He moved fast, yet wary through the dark offices, and reached a door marked as a Fire Exit at the far end.

As he expected, concrete steps, and in front of him, a fire exit door that would lead out into the alley. He cursed that he had no way to secure that. If the sniper got down here he only had to push the bar on those doors and he’d be outside and free. But Jahni knew he hadn’t done that so far, because a sign advised that the fire alarm would activate when the doors opened. Since no fire alarm was ringing, then he hadn’t gone through these, or any other fire escape doors. The doors at the front were locked. Unless there were other non-alarmed doors on the back of the building, then he was still inside. Jahni’s heartbeat sped up and he took a breath to calm himself.

He looked up the stairs, dim, lit by the red glow of emergency lighting only. He hoped the ones Madari was using were better lit. They probably had windows, letting moonlight in. He listened, hearing nothing, no sound of rushing feet, so began to climb the stairs, covering each flight from the landing as he reached it.

He hadn’t done this often, not in a building of this size, more used to fighting in small spaces lately. This was like the airport, he thought. Like their battle for the airport – so long ago.

Another silent flight of steps. Holding at bay the memory of the carnage on the steps to the departure lounges all those years ago, Jahni moved on, up. He hated that Madari was in the building too. That sickened him with fear. He could fight when Madari was safe, giving orders. But he could barely think straight when he knew Madari was in danger.

Control, he ordered himself. Faris can take care of himself. He sees so much as a hair of the shooter and he’ll kill him. For revenge too – he seemed to like Sami. Why the hell had they killed a singer? Who the hell gunned down a musician?

Abruptly, he remembered his phone in his pocket and wished it was a walkie-talkie instead. He had his set on vibration instead of ringing just now, but did Madari? Jahni didn’t dare call and risk giving away Madari’s position. He could be silently stalking the killer right now.

What if there’s more than one man? Jahni thought suddenly. Some snipers worked with a backup man. Shit.

Jahni reached the eight floor and began to curse silently. Next floor was the top, so either the bastard had got past him, or was up there waiting for him. And Madari would get there first – he’d started to climb first. Jahni ran up the last two flights and found himself at the top of the stairwell. On his right he saw a door marked “Roof Access”, on his left, a door into the offices. That had a small window in it, and he glanced through, quickly taking in the scene. Open plan – he could see right across to the front of the building, which had floor to ceiling windows. Moonlight poured in though open blinds. The room faced east, so Jahni would bet those blinds were usually drawn at night to stop the morning sun from turning the office into a greenhouse before the workers arrived. The killer must have opened them, to find the best spot to shoot from.

Movement! Jahni’s grip on his pistol tightened as someone poking his head around a corner and pulled back fast. He thought he recognised the profile, but stayed cautious anyway. He crouched down, opened the door and dove into the room, rolling straight into the cover of a desk. No shots came at him.

“Faris?” he called.

“It’s me,” Madari said. He didn’t step out though. Jahni swept the room, seeing no sign of anyone else.

“Clear!” he called.

“Clear.” Madari responded and stepped out from the partition where he’d been hidden. Jahni stood up. “Over here,” Madari said, pointing at something that Jahni couldn’t see until he moved closer to the windows. A small round hole in the window, at just the right height for a man to crouch and rest the barrel of a rifle. A disk of glass lay on the floor nearby.

“Don’t touch that, he might have handled it,” Madari said, his pistol loose in his hand now. He sighed. “We must have missed him. He must already have got out.”

“The fire exit doors are all alarmed and that front door is locked.” Jahni thought for a moment and thought about the dead security guard downstairs. The dead security guard whose keys the killer had taken. “Damn. Come on!”

He ran, leading the way to the door to the roof. It wasn’t locked and opened to his push. They piled through the door and up a narrow flight of steps, bursting onto the roof, looking for cover, finding it behind air conditioning outlets.

Some birds scattered, but otherwise, no movement. And then Jahni saw something that made him groan. He stood up and hurried over there, Madari following him. Fire escape. The metal staircase went all the way down the back of the building into the alleyway behind it. Jahni couldn’t tell from this angle if the final flight had been lowered.

Movement down in the alley caught his eye, but it was men coming into it, not leaving it. Police. He sighed. Too late. He got away.

They flopped down onto the low parapet that ran around the edge of the roof, the draining tension leaving Jahni suddenly exhausted.

“Damn,” Madari said quietly. Jahni could think of some choicer words, but that about summed it up. They sat in silence for a while. The wail of sirens came from below. The police would be rushing into the building already. In a few minutes, they’d have to go and report to them. Then they’d have to go back to the remains of the party. Was Sami still there, or had he been taken to hospital now? It wouldn’t do any good, Jahni knew that. He’d died in Jahni’s arms. He’d been dead before Jahni had lowered him to the floor.

“He was just a singer,” Jahni said. “Why kill him?” he glanced at Madari, who was staring into the middle distance. What he said next chilled him, but he had to say it. “Why kill him when you were standing a couple of feet away?”

Madari looked at him, face hard to read in the moonlight. “A calculated insult. To kill him in front of us and get away.”

True, Jahni felt insulted. An innocent man gunned down in front of him. Another victim to be avenged. But what Madari said about the killer getting away raised another question.

“Most of the others haven’t cared so much about escaping.”

“Good snipers aren’t something to waste.”

“Could he have been a professional, rather than a terrorist? What if this wasn’t even anything to do with Saifullah? Could Sami have had enemies of his own?”

Madari shook him head. “No. This was Saifullah. They’re changing tactics from attack to attack. Keeping us off balance.”

“But he was just a singer,” Jahni said again, almost wanting his speculation that it wasn’t a terrorist killing to be true. “Why kill a singer?”

“Because he fused Western and local influences in his music? Because he provoked… impure thoughts in women? To them, someone like that is the enemy. Perhaps even more dangerous to them than we are.”

“Enemy.” If entertainers were to be classed as enemies to be gunned down, then they really were in deep trouble. “He was just a singer.” He said it again in barely more than a whisper just as the police arrived on the roof.

Chapter 5

“Alex did really well,” Sophia said. Madari glanced across at her in the passenger seat of his car. Her voice was hoarse and low, her face pale and makeup streaked. “She stayed calm and took charge. She made sure the police knew what was going on.”

“She seems very competent. I’m glad you chose her.”

They arrived at Sophia’s building and this time there was no question but that he would take her up to her flat. He parked the car, went around to open the door for her and took her hand to help her out and put his arm around her as they made their way to her flat. Nobody else was around to see that at this time of night – almost 4am now. But he wouldn’t care if they were.

Every time he looked at her face he thought again how close the bullet had been to her. It must have passed inches away. And Kahil, standing so close behind Sami, luckily a little to the side, so when the high-velocity bullet passed right through its target it didn’t continue on into Jahni too. Madari had seen the gouge in the terrace’s flagstones that the bullet made, before finally rolling to a halt. A policeman had shown him the flattened and distorted round someone had found under a table. It made him feel sick.

Sophia’s flat was dark and warm, the air barely cooling off at night in the current heat wave.

“You should go straight to bed,” he said. “Try to sleep.”

“I want to have a shower first.”

Had she got blood on her? Madari didn’t know. He’d had to go so quickly to try to chase down the killer, that he hadn’t been there to comfort her in the midst of the horror. When he’d come back to the hotel she was sitting with the arm of one of her woman friends around her, trembling. He’d wanted to hold her, comfort her and he couldn’t, not there in public. And he couldn’t now, fearing his actions would be misinterpreted.

She said nothing else, just walked through to her bedroom and in a few minutes he heard the shower running. He should go. Or should he wait until she was safely in bed and asleep? Was that no longer his place?

Well, it was still his place to make her some tea. A friend could make tea for a friend. When she came back into the living room, he had a small tray of tea things ready and began to pour their cups.

“You didn’t have to do that.” She was wearing a cream-coloured silk nightgown with matching robe. The last time he’d seen it, he’d gone on to help her take it off, but now it protected her from his hands and gaze as if she wore a suit of armour.

“I just want to be sure you’re all right before I go,” he said as she came to sit beside him. Not too near, not expecting him to hug her, but near enough that his presence must reassure her. What a way to end up back in such close company with her. Nothing he could have wanted. “You shouldn’t have had to see such a horrible thing.”

Her eyes shone with tears again, but she blinked them away. “That poor boy,” she said in a shaking voice. “I will have to visit his parents to offer my condolences.”

They had lost a daughter, Madari recalled, and now a son. No parent should have to go through that. Thinking of him as a boy helped. It dampened the sinful thoughts he’d had about Sami for the past few weeks and especially since meeting him for the first time. He invoked impure thoughts in women, Madari had said to Jahni, and in his mind had added ‘not just women’. To have the subject of those vivid dreams killed in front of his eyes… to have the memories of the fantasy images along with the memory of him lying dead on the floor… the combination was sickening.

After she finished her tea, she put down the cup and he at once offered more. Leaning back in her seat, she nodded, looking tired now, eyes heavy. As he leaned forward to pour she reached out to touch him, just briefly, on the arm. It wasn’t a caress, or an invitation of any kind. Perhaps she sought only reassurance. He didn’t react, just handed her the teacup.

“How are you, Faris?” she said. “I don’t mean tonight. I mean, how are you in general?”

“Since we split up, you mean?” What could he say? Sexually frustrated, but mostly okay? Hardly flattering. “I miss you.” That was true.

“I miss you, too. But I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Of course not.”

“How is Kahil? I know you’ve been worrying about him.”

Madari grimaced. “He seems well at the moment. I just hope this doesn’t upset him too much.” By ‘upset’ he meant ‘make him go on a rampage of vengeance’. He needed Jahni focused and clear headed now.

“He should take a break,” she said. “Go away for a while.”

He wanted to go away forever, Madari knew. Somewhere else. “He went to America for a couple of weeks, recently. California. He was quite relaxed when he came back.”

Her dubious expression suggested she wasn’t impressed by that. It did sound like a sticking plaster for a broken leg, Madari thought.

“I think I can sleep now,” she said, getting up. Madari rose with her and was taken by surprise when she hugged him, held on for a long moment, her face buried against his chest, before she stepped away and smiled weakly. “Thank you for bringing me home. I’ll be all right now.”

He couldn’t follow her to the bedroom, not even simply to make sure she went to sleep, yet his protective instincts were not ready to let him walk out of the door.

“I’ll clear this away,” he said, picking up the tray and letting her make the assumption he meant he’d clear it away and leave. When she left the room. Madari took the tray into the kitchen, washed the things as quietly as he could and returned to the living room. No sound or light came from the bedroom. He should leave now. He should. But he sat in a chair, turned off the table lamp and closed his eyes.

What seemed only an instant later, he opened them to morning sunlight, woken by Giotto jumping onto his lap and walking back and forth, his tail brushing Madari’s face. He sighed. It was morning. Life went on. Cats needed to be fed.

He carried Giotto into the kitchen, put out some food for him and checked the clock. Barely six. Sophia had only been asleep a couple of hours and she needed her rest. Since he’d fed the cat it was too late to pretend he hadn’t stayed until dawn, but he certainly wasn’t going to wake her and let her know he’d been haunting her flat.

He closed the door quietly behind him and walked down the stairs to his car.


It was only about six thirty when Jahni parked in front of Madari’s home. This was foolish, he knew. Madari would probably still be sleeping. But Jahni had spent a couple of hours pacing his flat, then watching the sun rise from the roof, before suddenly feeling vulnerable up there, his imagination filling the windows of neighbouring buildings with snipers.

He could have just gone straight to barracks, but he needed to see Madari. If Madari had been the target last night instead of Sami, then he’d be dead now and Jahni would… he couldn’t even conceive of what he’d do if that happened. Lose his mind probably. Hunt down every one of Saifullah’s men and slaughter them, and then the bastard himself. The one who actually killed Faris he’d save until last, for extra-special attention.

Images of blood and horror filled his mind, and the world grew dim and red despite the morning sunshine. Disgusted with himself, he shook away the visions. Madari was not dead. He was alive and Jahni could go in and talk to him. Wake him from sleep if he had to. Just be with him, for a snatched hour or two, before they went back to work. And who knows what a man might say or do in that secret dawn time after a night like the one just passed?

He got out of his car, stopped to allow another car to pass and gasped as he realised it was Madari’s, saw his surprised face for a moment, before he turned the car into the entrance to the parking garage. Jahni went cold. Madari had left the hotel before he had. He’d taken Sophia home. And that was hours ago and now, here he was only just arriving home.

He wanted to get back into his car and leave, drive to barracks, pretend he’d never been there, express surprise if Madari mentioned it. But that would be the action of a coward. Instead he walked to the gate and a few minutes later, Madari appeared and let him in.

“Good morning, Kahil,” he said in a subdued tone. “You should be sleeping.”

“So should you.”

“Then we’re both caught out.” He blushed after he said that, since sleeping was not what he’d been caught out about here. “Um, come in.”

The building had a doorman, even during the night, but he must have been away getting coffee, because nobody sat at the desk in the hallway when Madari and Jahni passed through it. They took the lift, unusually, perhaps less chance of meeting other people who might wonder about such an early morning visit.

“I had to stay for a little while to make sure Sophia was all right,” Madari said as they rode up.

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” The stiffness and formality in Jahni’s voice made Madari look away.

“I hope I do.” It was almost a whisper. The strangeness of their situation made Jahni give a short laugh suddenly. They were most certainly not lovers and yet Madari sleeping with Sophia, or anyone else, would be like him being unfaithful. It was insane, to feel the jealousy and none of the pleasure. Madari didn’t answer after the laugh and Jahni bit his lip, hoping that hadn’t sounded too harsh, or even mocking.

Madari let them both into the flat, which felt surprisingly cool. It faced west, so the sun wasn’t boiling it alive yet. The high ceilings helped too. Madari wouldn’t tell him how much the flat had cost, but it was so spacious that Jahni felt sure it had been a hefty sum.

“Make us some coffee,” Madari said. “While I take a shower.”

Could it be no more than it appeared? Jahni thought, as he busied himself in the kitchen. Madari and Sophia were still friends after all, and she’d seen something horrible last night. Would Jahni have done any differently if he’d been the one to take her home?

He took his coffee and walked to the tall, shuttered window that took up one wall of the room, opening them one after another to the light. What if Madari and Sophia did get back together? Jahni understood why they had broken up. She couldn’t trust Madari to keep his promises and she had too much pride to overlook those time he broke them. If they got back together would that mean he had convinced her that he’d given up any thought of anything happening between him and Jahni? Ever.

Disliking the silence, he turned on the radio, and knew what he would hear. Of course, all they could talk about was the murder. Jahni had been listening to the radio and television at home and imagined all those young girls who loved the singer waking up to the shocking news. So many tears would be shed this morning.

Movement made him turn to see Madari come in, wearing his uniform shirt and trousers.

“I wonder if this will turn out to be a mistake by Saifullah,” Jahni said, looking out of the window again at the waking city. In the distance he heard the call to prayer. “A lot of people liked Sami.”

“True. But they aren’t the people he expects to rally to his cause. They are the people he wants to frighten.”

“Women and girls?” Jahni spat the words, disgusted at the idea of frightening them.

“Who else should be more afraid of him?” Madari said. The radio silenced, cutting off one of Sami’s songs. Jahni turned to see Madari turning it off, and noticed his feet were still bare, knew what that meant. Indeed, Madari unrolled a prayer mat that sat on top of a small cabinet and laid it carefully on the floor.

Uneasy, Jahni drank the last of his coffee and said, “I’d better go to barracks.” He’d come here to talk. But he couldn’t, not now.

“Kahil, stay, please. I would like it if you joined me, said a prayer for Sami.”

“No!” Jahni snapped. He slapped the coffee cup down hard on the nearest piece of furniture. “Can’t you see… somewhere out there.” He waved a hand at the city. “Out there, another man is saying the same prayers as you, but to thank God for keeping his aim true and guiding his bullet to Sami’s heart. The same prayers! How does that make sense?”

“It doesn’t. I’m sorry, Kahil, I know you’re upset that we didn’t catch the killer and –”

“What upsets me is seeing you grovel on your knees and call yourself a slave of the same God our enemies invoke to justify murder!” He choked more words off in the face of Madari’s shock. Shame washed over him. A long time ago he’d promised never to question Madari’s faith, but it grew harder with every atrocity their enemies committed in God’s name.

“I’m sorry. I’ll see you at the barracks.” This time he didn’t give Madari time to answer him, practically fled out of the door. He took the stairs, and met nobody, but the night doorman was back in his chair and Jahni saw the recognition in his face at the sight of Jahni. Well, that was great. It would have been better if the man had seen him going up there earlier. An early morning call was better than an apparent early morning departure. The image of the doorman in a witness box flickered through his mind – I saw Major Jahni leaving Colonel Madari’s flat early in the morning – but he pushed it away.

He made it as far as the small walled garden outside, before a horrible feeling of weakness came over him and he subsided onto a bench, his knees shaking. The burst of anger ebbed from him, leaving behind disgust at himself for yelling at Madari, for insulting him like that. No, he insulted the religion, not the man. He still believed Madari practiced – when he did – only out of social expectations. He might deny it, might claim he believed, because of the shield it gave him against his desires, but Jahni felt sure Madari had no more faith than he did.

And if one day he persuaded him to admit that, what then? Well, so what if he did? Religion was only one of the barriers between them. Their duty to fight those religiously motivated fanatics was another. And yet again, at the base of it. Religion. Without it, could they be happy? He looked up at the sound of footsteps. Madari, carrying his uniform jacket over his arm, the day already too warm to wear it outside.

“Kahil, are you all right now?”

“Yes,” Jahni said, rising and offering his hand. “I’m sorry for shouting at you. That was inexcusable.” Madari shook his hand, smiling.

“It’s forgotten. We’ve had a long night.” His smile faded to a worried look though, and that bothered Jahni more than if he’d been angry. Surely he should be angry? “Why don’t we both go to barracks in your car, then you can drive us back here later and we’ll have an early dinner and talk.”

“That’s…” all I want if it’s the best I can get. “A good idea.”

As they walked to his car Jahni remembered a promise he’d made last night, one that seemed very long ago now.

“Alex asked if she could have regular sparring sessions with me. Would it be okay to use the facilities at the barracks?” When Madari looked a little surprised he went on. “She says it will make her better at her job.” And her job is protecting Sophia.

“Yes,” Madari said, quite emphatically. “Yes, it will be fine. Set up regular sessions right away.”

“I thought you’d say that.”